Description of Cartagena

Revert to a description of Carthagena

I have been so far led away by the mentioning of our visit to the country and by the necessity in order to preserve connection, of relating every thing which had occurred concerning the country, as to have lost sight for a time of the Town. I propose now to revert to this at length and to let you know the impressions which I received from my visit to it.

And first of all I should tell you that the sketch which I have just given you of Carthagena when we first saw it although correct as to the appearance then presented, I mean in reference to the hill called the Popa, I found to be wrong when we were moored in the Harbour. The Town is not exactly built at the foot of it – a distance of several miles intervenes between them – but a distant or a side view leads you to the supposition that they approximate more closely than in reality they do. Of the Popa I shall speak more afterwards – but, I thought it necessary to premise the mistaken opinion I had formed as to the position of Carthagena, before I described the Town itself.

Carthagena, then as far as I could judge is divided into two portions, each of which is surrounded by water – and thus they form two islands. One general wall surrounds the Town, and the two divisions of it are connected by the vegetable market and by a draw bridge – & hence the enemy may be in possession of one part and yet be excluded from the other. The walls seem to be excellently and solidly built, and tolerably well mounted with cannon – I mean only with regard to numbers, for as to quality, that is quite a different thing. Many of the cannon are good and efficient, particularly some long pieces of brass, which were cast in Segovia & in France – but a great number are useless and threaten destruction to those who should be so daring as to discharge them. These seem to be shamefully neglected and their very stocks are going fast to decay. What a contrast is here to the care which is taken of our guns, balls &.c Numerous dismounted cannon are lying in the streets near the ramparts and hear to them in glorious confusion are thousands of cannon balls which are knocked about or carried at the pleasure of the people. Each of the brass pieces have inscriptions or names, as “Intrepido” “Victoria” “Ultima catio requm” &.ca throughout the whole circumference of the walls I don’t believe there [were] 4 Sentinels, and these ill dressed and ill armed – & perhaps without either powder or ball.

Houses of Carthagena

By a narrow passage between the two parts of the Town you come to the market places where you generally land, unless you want to go to the Custom House, close to which you can disembark. Suppose you prefer the former place, you see before you two gateways, with sentries in each. These are designed the one for those passing out of the City to the market, and the other for those entering the Town from the market. This arrangement is a most excellent one and is strictly enforced. Accordingly, by the proper gateway, we entered the principal portion – division of Carthagena, and proceeded thro’ the various streets, & alleys, which constitute it. In general the streets are very narrow and indifferently paved. I saw no very elegant private abodes – but all the houses may I think be entitled to be called very substantial. As such they are being built – many years ago by the former inhabitants. Most of them were furnished with strong massy doors, ornamented or I should rather say, armed with large hobnails and numerous fanciful devices. These doors were of immense size, long and broad – and in their whole appearance vividly reminded me of such expressions as are to be found in the psalms “Ye everlasting doors,” & “Ye doors that last for aye.” Within these is generally a lobby, leading to an open court, the sides of which are formed by the various apartments of the House. In this Court there is generally a well or handsomely ornamented fountain, which is both convenient and cooling to the air. The windows of the respectable people have all balconies, but are not at all to be compared to those at Cadiz. The lower orders have their windows guarded by an inelegant piece of wood work, very substantial, in imitation of small pillars – and there is such a complete resemblance, that they seem all to have come from the hand of the same workman.

Custom House – Inquisition & Cathedral at Carthagena

There are not many public buildings – and none of these are prepossessing in their external appearance. The custom house is of considerable length – but has no other recommendation.

The Inquisition Office is a lofty and very substantial piece of architecture, situated in one of the best squares, and at but a very short distance from the Cathedral. It was with very great interest that I viewed this monument of the superstition and cruelty of the Romanish Church. All that I had heard or read respecting this terrible institution occurred to me and rendered me anxious, if possible, to see the interior. But lack of time and different circumstances prevented the gratification of my wish – nor, I was told, ought I to regret the disappointment, there is really nothing to be seen. It is now occupied by the counting house & business of a M.r Bianch, one of our principal British Merchants in Carthagena. Passing however, one day, I saw the interior court – several rooms and the different staircases, on each landing place very small strong doors for the admission, I opine, of the prisoners to their cells. Every part bore the impress of strength & durability, as if it was contemplated by the founders, that this Unholy, iniquitous and abominable office would last for ever.

Cathedral – Confessionals at Carthagena

A few yards from the Inquisition offices the Cathedral presents itself. We entered it by [an immense door at one extremity, and immediately within it was a marble basin of holy water. The centre of this very large Church was occupied by an enclosed space having seats, a throne or pulpit, for the monks, grand Inquisitor & Bishop. The sides were adorned with portraits of various saints, with pictorial representations of the events of their history, with vivid shewings both of the suffering of poor souls in purgatory, and with numerous images of our Saviour, and the Virgin Mary. But a greater curiosity than all these in my opinion, were 20 or 30 confessionals. These were large boxes, well painted & gilded – and in them was a seat for the reverend Confessor. On each side were two apertures like small windows, which were filled up, by what appeared to be a piece of tin pierced with innumerable holes. Around the box was a narrow platform, on which the penitent knelt opposite to the above mentioned windows, and poured in, a whisper the whole catalogue of the faults, which he had committed since last confession day, while in the meantime the holy fathers, if the history were long and tedious, might unperceived indulge in a considerable nap, till the running sound of the sinner’s voice ceasing aroused him. What crimes had not been confessed on the very spot, which I was then beholding? What tales could not these Confessionals unfold if they had tongue to tell them?

Curious tomb stone – Black Christ & Virgin

The opposite extremity to that which we entered was occupied by a large altar, above which were several large pictures, which had once been richly ornamented with gold – but which were rather disfigured & shewen to disadvantage by the tarnished state of the gildings. When we were on the point of leaving the Cathedral we remarked a small marble seat, in front of the enclosed space, which I have mentioned, on which was an inscription stating that the person, who lay beneath it, had died on a certain day of a particular month at ¾ past 8 P.M., aged so many years, months, weeks, days & hours. How particular & Minute! The reason of this it is difficult to guess at. May it not be from an apprehension that another person might be mistaken for the Don in this Cathedral by rigidly at the same time and by the certainty that no other person of the same name city & nation could have corresponded I all the particulars of his death. However that may be “requiescat in pace.”

Besides the Cathedral there are several Churches, which upon the whole are very good. You may observe here, as in Brazil, that the negroes have chosen to represent our Saviour & his Mother, as Blacks, from a natural predilection for their own colour, which predilection they scrupled not to qualify, at the expense of truth & history. But what are truth and History to them, if they believe that a black Christ & a black Virgin will be more propitious to their prayers, than either the one or the other – of the same colour as the Whites. These sacred images are decked out with all the tinsel & finery which they can muster – and in some cases, they have black priests & servitors of the Church.

Carthagena commanded by San Felippe & la Popa

Before leaving the description of the Town altogether, I may mention that it is commanded completely by a large fortress, built on a hill several hundred feet in height, and about a half a mile distant. It is called the fort of San Felippe, and appears to be of considerable strength – so that any party being master of it, if they cannot make the City capitulate, they can annoy excessively. This fort is again commanded, or rather may be commanded by artillery placed on the summit of that lofty hill called la Popa, which I have already mentioned, as forming so prominent a feature in the scenery around Carthagena. At present there are no fortifications on it – but only a large convent dedicated to Nuestra Senora de la Popa. I have been told that no forts are allowed to be erected on it since these would give an enemy a decided superiority.

Such then is Carthagena in its appearance, its houses, churches, and strength and weakness – from these I shall now pass to the consideration of circumstances relating to its inhabitants.

Read on … Slaves, Militia & Morality